Several Coffee County residents are suing their respective former landlords accusing the property owners of using “bizarre and brutal tactics outside the law to throw people out of their homes.”
The Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands is representing the five tenants in separate civil cases against the landlords.
In each lawsuit the former tenants accuse the landlords of constructive eviction, intentional infliction of emotional distress, breach of the covenant of quiet enjoyment, trespass and violation of the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act.
A lawsuit is only one side of a legal argument.
Former tenants Lala Partin, Joseph Brockington and Nancy Benton are suing B&B Properties in Manchester.
Partin's suit follows several incidents in October.
“He went to the box outside and turned off the main power breaker box and locked it,” Partin said of her landlord. “Every time he did anything I called the law.”
She continued, “They told me he had a right and they didn't want to take a report of it.”
As part of Partin's case she claims B&B Properties employees illegally turned off her electricity three times and the water one time within the six months she lived in a mobile home owned by the company.
In October, the Legal Aid Society reports it obtained a restraining order to force Partin's former landlord to reconnect her utilities.
“As long as he gets away with it,” she said. “You always have to look over your shoulder.”
Partin a mother of six children also accuses her former landlord of entering the mobile home without her permission, physical intimidation and threatening to have her children removed from her custody by the Department of Children's Services unless she dropped the pending litigation.
Joseph Brockington and Nancy Benton are also suing B&B Properties.
According to the couple's lawsuit, in January 2011 the company shut off electricity to their mobile home in sub-freezing temperatures because of a dispute about a utility bill. The lawsuit alleges their former landlord shut off the electricity three times in three days.
“It was one thing after another,” Brockington said. “It was harassment, cutting off the power and threatening our neighbors if they offered us help or any kind of shelter.”
Brockington and Benton said it was so cold without electricity in the mobile home they were forced to live in their car with their pets.
“We think anyone who has a problem like this should talk to someone in the legal profession,” Brockington said.
Benton continued, “He cannot treat people so inhumane you can't do that.”
When reached by phone Barry Parker, Jr. of B&B Properties told Nashville's News 2 he had not been served all the complaints against him. He said he wanted to fully review the complaints with his attorney before commenting.
He said he has nothing to hide.
Felicia Chesney is suing her former landlord Seth Alexander in Manchester.
In her complaint she claims Alexander shut off her utilities October 9th because he said she did not pay her rent in full. Chesney said she paid her rent, but her former landowner did not admit the error until October 13.
By that point Chesney, who was nine months pregnant, had moved out because there was no electricity or water.
When the tenant came to retrieve her belongings she said her landlord refused to give her the property until she paid him for the week she moved out of the mobile home while it was without utilities.
“I asked him how are you going to keep me from getting my things?” She said. “He said I have ways and hung up the phone.”
Nashville's News 2 reached Alexander by phone. He said the claims made against him are fraudulent. He also said he would defend the claims against through the court system.
Attorney Salmun Kazerounian, an attorney for Legal Aid Society, is representing the former tenants.
“It's never legal to shut off utilities,” he said. “It doesn't matter how far behind they are on rent.”
He continued, “There is a legal eviction process that needs to be followed to evict someone from a house.”
Kazerounian said there are a number of incidents where landlords in Coffee County do not follow the legal eviction process.
“[Our clients] want landlords to be on notice,” he said.
In Tennessee, landlords must give a written eviction notice to tenants. Kazerounian said only after a judgment against the tenant is entered by a judge can that person be evicted.
“Only sheriffs and their deputies are permitted to forcibly evict tenants from their homes,” a statement from the Legal Aid Society said.
The statement also said Coffee County Sheriff's Deputies have refused to intervene when tenants have complained about the alleged violations of their tenants rights.
None of the mentioned lawsuits name the Coffee County Sheriff's Office, Sheriff Steve Graves or his any of his deputies as defendants.
“We have never let anyone harm anyone else,” Coffee County Sheriff Steve Graves said. “Legal Aid has made several complaints and it will be worked out in court.”
The sheriff also said deputies have given Legal Aid pamphlets to tenants and landlords when there is a dispute.
Sheriff Graves told Nashville's News 2 he consults with the district attorney's office to be sure all deputies follow the applicable Tennessee laws as closely as possible.
All of the mentioned legal cases are in various stages of the litigation process. Kazerounian said depending on discussions with the named defendants some cases could be resolved in days others could take months.
To look at full PDF images of the lawsuits click on each one under the “More on Web.”